Whew! Knicks villain Reggie Miller returns only as TNT analyst

Former NBA player Reggie Miller attends the game Former NBA player Reggie Miller attends the game between the San Diego State Aztecs and the Northern Colorado Bears during the second round of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at McKale Center. (March 17, 2011) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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Neil Best Newsday columnist Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted on Sept. ...

Reggie Miller was on the phone from LAX yesterday, preparing for a business trip to New York and insisting his mission simply will be to analyze "just another [conference] semifinal, a great matchup between the No. 2 and 3 seeds.

"It just so happens to be Knicks versus Pacers."

Well, yes, there is that. Which is why Miller's trip to the Garden to work Game 2 for TNT Tuesday night is no ordinary assignment.

It never is when Miller visits The World's Most Famous Arena, more so than ever now that his former team and the home team are renewing playoff acquaintances for the first time since their rivalry of a prior millennium, when Miller starred as an unforgettable Garden villain.

Adding to the deliciousness, Tuesday is the 18th anniversary of Miller's most famous MSG moment, when he scored eight points in 8.9 seconds to rally the Pacers from a six-point deficit in the last 18.7 seconds of the game.

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ESPN even commissioned an excellent 2010 documentary on the subject of Reggie vs. the Knicks, "Winning Time," set to an operatic soundtrack.

Miller has announced games at the Garden before, but he is well aware that given the stakes and the Pacers' 1-0 series lead, the very sight of him will be emotional for many Knicks fans.

How is he treated by New Yorkers these days? Miller said when he walks around the city, the people who "get up the courage to come up to me, you hear a lot of, 'I really didn't like you when I was a kid but I respected you, and I respect you now.' "

At the Garden, however, "It's a little bit different, because that's the hard-core New York-based fans. So they're a little bit more ornery, I would say. But I love it. It's good after 20-plus years, you can still have an effect on people through how you played the game."

Miller said he is pleased that the Pacers-Knicks matchup has reminded many fans and educated younger ones of the six playoff series the teams staged between 1993 and 2000.

"It was great for John Starks, Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley, myself, the Davis boys [Antonio and Dale]," he said. "Those were great matchups, great basketball. Hall of Fame coaches . . . It wasn't a fad. Those teams were for real."

Miller's biggest individual foil -- if you don't include fan Spike Lee -- was Starks, who famously head-butted him during the 1993 playoffs.

As he watched warm-ups courtside before Game 1, Starks said Miller being in the house for Game 2 would be "kind of fitting. It's kind of a made-for-TV type of scenario. So it should be a lot of fun.

"I'm pretty sure it's going to bring back a lot of memories for him and all the success he had up here in the Garden, and some bad memories, too."

What is their relationship like these days? "Me and Reggie are cool," Starks said. "We are very friendly with one another. That was just stuff that we did on the court. It wasn't anything personal. He was trying to win, I was trying to win, by any means necessary."

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Said Miller: "I would say we're cordial. Time heals all wounds. It's time to move on. I would say this: I respect John and I knew how much of a fierce competitor he was and is. He would run through a brick wall for his team, and I can't say that for a lot of guys in our league."

Miller was not surprised by Game 1 Sunday and said many fans forget that the Pacers led the eventual champion Heat two games to one last year before falling in six.

As for the Knicks, he agreed with many observers in saying they are at their best when they keep the ball moving, and when Carmelo Anthony scores efficiently.

"You can't take 28 shots to score 28 points," he said. "If he can shoot 20 times to get 30 points, that's efficient."

Another key, Miller said, is how the officials treat Pacers center Roy Hibbert.

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"Everything he's doing is absolutely within the rules," he said. "The Knicks are coming right to him and he is going straight up. His verticality has been unbelievable. I agree with the [Game 1] officials; there are no fouls. Some may call it, some don't."

Miller said he likes still being identified as a Pacer and remains grateful to team president Donnie Walsh and ownership. But he promised that none of that will affect his work.

"I'm blue and gold, but that's not going to stop me from calling a Pacers-Knicks game fairly and objectively," he said. "I call what I see in front of me . . . That's just what I get paid for."

But before tipoff, he just might look around and consider the echoes of New York springs past.

"I wouldn't take those series back for anything," Miller said.

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